Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Present

The following is my Umbehr family Christmas poem for 2005.  I thought it was easier to hit the highlights of our year, rather than write a newsletter and go into detail on each event. This was an eventful year, without a doubt, with many ups and downs – which is the excuse I’m using for failing to include one of the major milestones of 2005 – Erin’s graduation from nursing school (summa cum laude)! I felt terrible about it after I realized it, although Erin never said a word.   In an attempt to make up for my oversight, I’ve included a picture taken on the day Erin graduated.   We’re so proud of you, Erin!

Merry Christmas One and All!

Some of you hear from us
Quite frequently
If my Reflections column
You do receive

But for those of you
Who feel out of the loop
This poem will provide
The Umbehr family scoop

March brought much sadness
Heartache and tears
With news that we lost
My sister Patricia, so dear

In spite of our sorrow
Life continued indeed            
And on May 14th
Keen earned his degree

The celebration was short-lived
Then the real work began
As he studied and prepared
For the bar exam

On the 1st of September
We learned the good news
He could now practice law
And charge fees for his views!

But the summer had other
Surprises in store
When Hurricane Katrina
Hit the Gulf Coast shore

Jared, Erin & boys
Lost all their possessions
Except their cars and their lives
Which was a major concession!

Josh & Lisa keep busy        
With both still in school
Lisa graduates in May
In time to sit by the pool

But that won’t last long
For the parents-to-be
That’s right – they’re expecting!
Then baby will make three!

And if that wasn’t enough,
For the proud grandparents to swallow
Jared & Erin soon announced
That their new baby would follow!

Keen II is still working
And refereeing at night
Plus he takes on-line classes
He’s so ambitious and bright

He won the 5K race
In Alma this year
And began dating Emily
In love they appear

Kirk made a big move
To a larger school nearby
Expanding his horizons
Under God’s and our watchful eye

He’s earning good grades
And joined a paintball club
But he was most excited when,
He made the basketball cut!

Now it’s time to wrap up
This warm Christmas greeting
May God bless you and keep you
Until our next meeting!          

Keen, Eileen, Jared, Erin, Asher, Gabe, Josh, Lisa, Keen II and Kirk

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Past

This week I’d like to share a poem about a Van Kirk Christmas past, which was written in 1997 by my sister-in-law, Connie, when she and my brother Bill and their four kids were living in Louisiana.

Connie titled her Christmas newsletter, “The Van Kirk Times.” I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

I’d also like to wish all of you - my friends, family and “unknown readers” – many blessings of health, happiness, and prosperity this Christmas season and in the coming year. ~ Eileen


Our New Year started out with a bang, because on New Year’s Eve in Louisiana, fireworks everywhere rang.

A January outing to an amusement park is another story, where Kyle climbed high on Captain Hooks’ ship and cried out, “I FEEL THE GLORY”!

A special visit came from my Mom & Dad, with sightseeing & Mardi Gras parades, what a time we had!

For beads, toys & trinkets we’d say, “Throw me something, Mister!” It’s the biggest free show on earth for every brother & sister.

Joey had at first, a struggle to read, But almost overnight, he’s now in the lead!

My sister and family did visit for just one full day. A zoo trip in a forecast of rain was changed to sunshine, because we did pray!

Early March Spring planting was fun in a sleeveless shirt, just wish because of red clay, we didn’t have to buy all this dirt!

Luke played his trumpet and made honor band. He played as one of the best in the district, so let’s give him a hand.

On a river we did go with our local pastor, who loved to drive the boat faster and faster.

Except when the cruise ships came by, we submarined their waves and not a one of us was dry.

In April all 3 boys played baseball, playing through June, we were in for the long haul.

Luke started a business, mowing grass, and good for him the price was first class.

To the bank he did take half of his dough, he wonders now, where did the rest of it go?

What’s this bill I owe to the school cafe'? Why it’s Joey, who secretly decided to eat breakfast there everyday!

Bill received a promotion to level S-2, with all his hard work, 3M knew he was due.

High humidity & 90’s started early in May. And the first day of comfortable weather was still 5 months away.

Blueberry picking in June was quite a treat, the bushes were like trees, with large berries, abundant and sweet.

We had to soon travel far for a reunion with the VK clan, so we bought ourselves a ’95 Ford Windstar van.

For a Singapore school reunion came Bill’s sisters Eileen & Mary, fun and a whirlwind weekend of seeing classmates, some a bit too friendly – it was scary!

Just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, the baseball season went 6 more weeks with All-Stars - Good Grief!

A nice trip to Astro World in Houston with Renee, oh what could be the matter? It was hotter than blazes, the thermometers must have shattered.

Seeing Bill’s family in N.C. ocean shore made many memories to save, we all enjoyed seeing who could catch the biggest wave.

On this very trip the shocking news came, Bill’s key account is sold! Will his territory remain the same?

In August discussion of more territory, maybe a move? No move was the answer, so I focused on getting back in the groove.

The last weeks of summer reaped far more than I could bear! A 5-year-old girl cut short Callies’ hair!

Nerf gun ink pen ammo made carpet stains and all the bedroom wall-ball marks drove me insane.

Since I was due for a break, I went to a pampering party one day, to my surprise, a job offer came my way.

Come teach Spin Cycling at our health club (another dream come true), I took the job along with Aerobic Instructor Certification to pursue.

It was a busy Fall, with Luke and Joe in football. They both played center, hooray! Kyle in gymnastics, Callie in ballet.

The boys and I deep in our studies, some more news flashed. A transfer to Kansas City, our future here was slashed.

October brought Bill’s Dad to see us, He was quite a sport in all the scheduled ruckus.

At Thanksgiving we drove to see him, and the cup of hospitality he filled to the brim.

Mishaps of Joey’s sprained finger and Kyle’s black eye, I passed my Aerobic Exam, after studying so hard, I could die.

Kyle happened to lose four teeth in one week, he proclaimed, “Mom, I am on a losing streak”!

My friend, Renee, came to have a blast, and it felt like fun days we had had in the past.

We had such a blast you see, because Bill, he was baby-sitting for me.
To New Orleans we will soon say good-bye, it’s good news, yet makes me cry.

Bill will have a territory of five Midwest states, we will move the first quarter of 1998.

This holiday season we’ll drive to Minnesota to see y’all. COME TO OUR OPEN HOUSE FOR ONE AND ALL!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” ~ Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)
Bill, Connie & kids at Van Kirk family reunion in Nags Head,1997

The Van Kirk Family in 2005 ~ Luke, Callie, Connie, Bill, Joey and Kyle

Friday, December 02, 2005

True Gifts

“And what a difference between our sin and God's generous gift of forgiveness. For this one man, Adam, brought death to many through his sin. But this other man, Jesus Christ, brought forgiveness to many through God's bountiful gift.”
                         ~ Romans 5:15 (NLT)

     With all the discussion about whether it’s appropriate to wish people a Merry Christmas or whether we should simply use the generic greeting, “Happy Holidays” – I’d just like to say one thing: Christmas is what Christmas is, just as Hanukkah is what Hanukkah is – and no one should have to apologize for that. Whether a particular holiday is set aside to honor a past president, veterans of war, Martin Luther King, or any other entity or religion, changing the name doesn’t change the original meaning.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who came to Earth to save us from our sins.  How (or whether) individuals choose to participate in the celebration is up to them.
     The following poem was written by my friend, Pat Barrett:
Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

It’s that time of year again
Decorations are up in the store
Advertisements try to entice us
To buy two, three, or four

We check last year’s decorations
To see if we need some more
We hang fragrant green wreaths
To welcome who come to the door

People hurry, scurry and rush
As they count the calendar days
Running around like little mice
Scampering through the maze

Is this why we celebrate Christmas
To get caught up in flurry and hype?
Do we appreciate the true meaning
Or negatively complain and gripe?

If we stop and listen to the music
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”
Listen to the words and message
The reason to celebrate we’ll hear

The baby born in a manger
Wasn’t just a homeless infant
God Himself became human
For our sakes from heaven was sent

He left his glory in heaven
Because of great love for all sinners
He came to die on the cross
All who believe can be winners

Attention and contemplation
Of such incredible, wonderful love
Gives reason for praise and adoration
Of our wonderful God up above

It’s the real reason to celebrate
Gives us peace and a big smile
Rejoice, be happy and praise Him
The motive was there all the while.

“I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.” ~Psalm 9:1

Pat’s poem not only captures the true meaning of Christmas, it also addresses the hectic pace that is typically associated with the various holiday preparations.

Every year I struggle with becoming overwhelmed by the stress that comes from having too much to do in too little time. So this year I broke a record by mailing my Christmas cards out a few days after Thanksgiving. I am also endeavoring to de-emphasize the material aspect of Christmas, by keeping the amount of money I spend on gifts within a reasonable limit.

Some of you may recall reading the following poem I wrote several years ago about the gift of time.  In my opinion, it is and always will be the greatest gift you can offer your loved ones – not only at Christmas, but all year through.

The Greatest Gift
By Eileen Umbehr

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t diamonds or gold
The greatest gift of all
Never rusts or gets old

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t being wined or dined
The greatest gift of all
Is the easiest to find

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t the latest craze
The greatest gift of all
Lasts more than three days

The greatest gift of all
Can’t be purchased in a store
It comes straight from the heart
And lasts forevermore

Yes, the greatest gift of all
Doesn’t cost a dime
For the greatest gift of all
Is the gift of time.  

“. . . [T]he only true gift is a portion of thyself.”
                   ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

     Someone emailed me the following list of eight gifts that don’t cost a cent:

      But you must REALLY listen.
      No interrupting, no daydreaming,
      no planning your response. Just listening.

       Be generous with hugs, kisses, pats on the back,
       and handholds. Let these small actions demonstrate
       the love you have for family and friends.

      Clip cartoons.
      Share articles and funny stories.
      Your gift will say, "I love to laugh with you."

        It can be a simple, “Thanks for the help" note,
        or a full sonnet.  A brief, handwritten note may
        be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.

       A simple and sincere,
       "You look great in red," "You did a super job,"
       or "That was a wonderful meal" can make someone's day.

       Every day go out of your way to do something kind.

       There are times when we want nothing better
       than to be left alone. Be sensitive to those times
       and give the gift of solitude to others.

       The easiest way to feel good is to extend
       a kind word to someone, really it is not that
       hard to say, “Hello,” or “Thank You.”

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  
~ Leo Buscaglia

Author Unknown

To a Friend: Loyalty
To an Enemy: Forgiveness
To your Boss: Service
To your Child: Patience and a Good Example
To your Father: Honor
To your Mother: Gratitude and Devotion
To your Spouse: Love and Faithfulness
To Yourself: Respect
To All Men and Women: Charity
To God: Your Life

In closing, I’d like to share a poem which was written by another gifted poet and friend of mine, Gale Rogers.  Gale said that he was trying to show and tell about some of the gifts he received growing up. “Sad or melancholy as the poem might seem,” he wrote, “I wanted to make the reader think what Christmas is all about, by comparing the impending traditional gifts one looks forward to and the real gift that is the true meaning of Christmas . . . .”

By Gale Rogers

I remember Christmas past with memories that forever will last.

I remember fresh green fir trees lit with lights and multicolored glass balls.  Mistletoe, strings of cranberries and popcorn hanging on gala decorated walls.

I remember stockings filled to the brim with oranges, apples and sticky ribbon candy. Pencils, small wooden toys, nuts handkerchiefs and other things so handy.

I remember going caroling, while holding hands with a very special girl. Followed, by hot chocolate back at the church and peppermint canes of red and white swirl.

I remember being a shepherd, in the church play about the Birth. My first Midnight Mass with a friend, and the gifts of incense and myrrh.

I remember the American flyer, maroon and white. How it did gleam beside the tree brand new, with a horn and a big chrome headlight.

I remember Lincoln logs, spinning tops, and tinker toys. Footballs, bats, new overalls a pair of mittens and other gifts for boys.

I remember Shirley Temple dolls, with hair hanging in curls. China playhouse dishes, ribbons, bows, fancy skirts, story book dolls and other presents for girls.

I remember the gathering and the warmth, shared by family and friends. Exchanging cards with those far away, singing "White Christmas" and other old trends.

I remember a Christmas when family, was scattered from Texas to Nome.  How sad it was that year, knowing we could not be home.

I remember my children's first Christmas, and their impending glee. How happy I was to be able to give them their very own memory.

But most of all I stop, to remember just why. Nothing will ever compare to the gift given long ago, when a single star shone in Eastern sky.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”    ~ John 3:16 (KJV)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Matters of the Heart

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."                                             ~ 1 Samuel 16:7b

     I hope you don’t mind that I am taking a little break from writing during the holidays by sharing some poems and stories others have passed along to me over the years.  This week I’d like to share two stories which refer to matters of the heart, compliments of my friend Larry Perry who lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I did.   ~ Eileen

“Faith is realizing that I am useful to God - not in spite of my scars, but because of them.”   ~ Pamela Reeve

The Beautiful Heart
Author Unknown

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart, for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, "Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine." The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared. “How can he say that his heart is more beautiful?”  

The young man looked at the state of the old man's heart and laughed. “You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears."

"Yes," said the old man, "Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges . . . giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting.

“So now do you see what true beauty is?"

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his scarred heart and placed it in the wound of the young man's heart.

It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.

How sad it must be to go through life with a whole heart.

A Twenty Dollar Bill

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar started off one of his seminars in Kansas City by holding up a $20.00 bill. In the room of 2000, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill" Hands started going up. He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you.  But first, let me do this.  

He proceeded to crumple up the $20 dollar bill. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. "Now, who still wants it?"  Still the hands went into the air.

“My friends,” he said, “we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20.

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But, no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who do love you.

The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but from WHO WE ARE.  YOU are special.  Don't EVER forget it!"

    “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love . . .”
                ~ I John 4:16a (NKJV)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Remembering Patricia

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generation.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:7a (KJV)

“Grief is a real wound, a mutilation, a gaping hole in the human spirit. Some beloved person has been wrested, torn bodily from one’s life. Yet it is God alone who can finally heal the brokenhearted ....”

~ To Live Again
, by Catherine Marshall

This Saturday, November 26th, would have been my sister Patricia’s 55th birthday. Those of us who knew and loved Patricia miss her more than words can say, and we will never fully heal from the heartache of losing her or the void her passing left in all of our lives.

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”

~ Letter from Patricia’s friend, Jenifer

Patricia’s life partner, Nikki, remains close to our hearts and will always be a cherished member of the Van Kirk family. After Patricia’s untimely death last spring, Nikki and many of her friends combined their efforts, energies, and talents to host a memorial in Patricia’s honor. As I shared in an earlier column, the Celebration of Life on Whidbey Island was attended by approximately 200 people. It was such a beautiful and fitting tribute to Patricia’s all-too-short life.

Patricia and Nikki

Nikki and her loving circle of friends/family will be remembering and celebrating Patricia’s life once again over Thanksgiving weekend. Here is an excerpt from an email Nikki sent us about their plans:

“It is with much love and gratitude that I/we in Seattle and Whidbey will include all of Patricia's family for our special celebration of Patricia on the 26th of November. We invite you to join us in your own way through prayer, song, dance, laughter, silence... any way the spirit moves you to celebrate Patricia. I envision all of us lighting a candle for Patricia and sending her a blessing from our heart. Maybe we can come up with a time where we can all light our candles at the same time.

It will be a day where many of us from Seattle and Whidbey and maybe Martha from Alaska will come together to remember Patricia. We'll spend time throughout the day sharing stories, taking walks, talking, singing and creating a mural, painting a rock.... writing a poem, something to honor Patricia. I will light a 24-hour candle in the morning and we will light 55 candles in the late afternoon or early evening. Diana and Sylvia will be singing and leading us in songs . . .”

Sylvia & Diana singing at the Celebration of Life for Patricia

During the time my sisters and I spent on Whidbey Island, we formed deep and lasting friendships with the members of Patricia’s extended family. This week, I’d like to share some correspondence I’ve received from two of our new friends.

This first letter is from Martha, who described Patricia as “my dearest friend of the heart.” After the service, Martha and I cried and shared memories together on the deck of Patricia and Nikki’s home, overlooking their beautiful yard and view – a view that will never look quite the same without Patricia.

Dear Eileen,

Well, as you may have considered, I am a terrible procrastinator and not that easy with words as both you and Jenifer have been blessed to be. Nonetheless, I have thought of you often and have appreciated your card and e-mails very much.

I still cannot believe that our dear Patricia won’t be answering the phone when I call her house. I miss her every day. Sometimes grieving seems so selfish – I so much want to see her again and just then, when it feels overwhelming, Jenifer tells me of a dream she had. It’s a party and Patricia is there with all her friends. She is dead, but just the same there and enjoying being with her dear ones. She looks radiantly happy. She and Jen talk – no one else can see her (it is, after all, Jenifer’s dream); she tells Jenifer that everything is wonderful. Jenifer asks if she knows the meaning and purpose of life now. Patricia laughs that wonderful Patricia laugh and says, “Oh, I can’t tell you that!” Jenifer replies that she doesn’t want her to tell her what the meaning and purpose of life is, just if Patricia knows what it is, and with another laugh she says, “Well, of course!” Anyway, there was certainly more detail Jen could say, but I like to remember the story, hear that laugh in my heart and choose to believe that she is radiantly happy and watching over us and right here with us when we need her.

I must tell you it was wonderful to spend that time with you and your sisters in April, to laugh and cry and tell stories together. It’s my belief that friends become friends through shared experiences and I now do feel blessed to count you all as my friends and hope to have many more times to share of ourselves.

With much love,

Patricia with Martha, Jenifer & their two boys, Denali (left) and Rogelio

I received this next letter from Shawn shortly after returning from the memorial on Whidbey Island. Shawn and her daughter Lucy shared the house that Nikki and Patricia lived in, and they continue to share it now with Nikki.

Shawn & Lucy at the Celebration of Life

Hey Eileen,

Thank you for the pictures. It was an extraordinary weekend. We were so glad to meet the four of you and have a greater context to Patricia's life. There was not a day that I can remember in living with Patricia that the Van Kirk influence was not spoken of. She would sing a song to Lucy or tell a family story or mention one of you. Out of sight was definitely not out of mind and heart.

Lucy is doing well. We broke off of the bottle last weekend and that has been the BIG transition. She does not like this getting to be a big girl and all of the burdens that growth carries.

Lucy does still think of “Pisha.” She has 3 coasters with coffee cup prints on them. She makes "hoffee" for Nikki, Pisha and herself. I am not included in the hoffee parties because she only has 3 coasters. The other night when she was taking a bath, she asked me where Pisha is now. I told her that Pisha is in Heaven and can't come back like she used to and see us but she is now with us in our hearts and thoughts. Lucy took that in and contemplated it for awhile. Then, she asked me, "Mama, what is thinking? What are thoughts?" So, I said that thoughts are what she is having when she asks me if we are going to Jody's (her babysitter) and she can picture Jody in her mind and see Jody's house but we are at home so she can't see Jody. Then, the next day, we go to Jody's house and she sees Jody and sees the house and it looks just like it did in her mind's eye. Pisha can only come back to us through our hearts and thoughts and we can see her that way but we won't ever see her like we used to when she could come home in her body. Lucy thought about it for a minute and then shrugged that satisfied way that toddlers have. Sometimes she says goodbye to Pisha as we leave the house so I know Patricia is still hanging around. I like to believe Lucy has the best Auntie Guardian Angel ever.

Nikki is struggling her way through it all. Her pain is immense and we just try and help her make it from one day to the next. Some days are better than others. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." Nikki mourns in a good way and finds comfort in it and from her loving circle. She really is good at letting people help hold her up right now. That is a gift for everyone.

Well, I am finishing up work and heading for the ferry. I wanted to respond right away. I will leave you with one more bit of prose. It is from the Mass card from my aunt's funeral, and I think it holds true for Patricia, too.

Your gentle face and patient smile
With sadness we recall.
You had a kindly word for each
And died beloved by all.

The voice is mute and stilled the heart
That loved us well and true.
Ah, but bitter was the trial to part
From one so good as you.

You are not forgotten loved one
Nor will you ever be.
As long as life and memory last
We will remember thee.

We miss you now, our hearts are sore,
As time goes on, we miss you more,
Your loving smile, your gentle face
No one can fill your vacant place.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes . . . .” ~ Revelation 21:4

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Roses and Thorns

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” ~I Chronicles 16:34 (NKJV)

“Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it’s too late. Today, this hour, this minute is the day, the hour the minute for each of us to sense the fact that life is good, with all its trials and troubles, and perhaps more interesting because of them.” ~ Robert R. Updegraff, author of "Be Thankful For Your Troubles"

The other day I saw a story about a little girl who was born without the ability to feel pain. At first her parents thought it would be a blessing, but they soon learned that it was much more like a curse. For example, when their daughter was teething, she nearly chewed the ends of her fingers right off. And when she got older, she received third degree burns from grabbing a hot light bulb. The girl’s mother stated that no one realizes how important it is to be able to feel pain, and how necessary it is to our physical well-being.

While pain of any kind is unpleasant – whether physical or emotional – it is that very pain which stretches our faith, making us stronger and more equipped to face the next trial that comes our way. These painful experiences also help keep our hearts tender, so that we’re in a better position to extend compassion to others who are facing difficult situations in their own lives.

“Tonight Keen was talking about how he treasures our walks and the times we’ve danced on the patio. Then I said, ‘But do you know what’s sad? There would have been so much more of that, if there had only been less of this,’ (the lawsuit). Then Keen replied, ‘But would it have been as sweet? If we’d never climbed the mountains, would we appreciate the plains?” ~ Journal entry, 1996 (after the lawsuit settled)

I hope that the following story and poem will serve as gentle reminders for all of us to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving to God, even in the midst of our darkest hours.

Thanksgiving Bouquet
Author Unknown

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren't enough, her husband's company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called to say she could not come. What's worse, Sandra was infuriated by a friend’s suggestion that her grief was a God-given path to maturity which would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," Sandra thought with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what, she wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her unborn child?

"Good afternoon, may I help you?" The shop clerk's approach startled her.

"I....I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra.

"For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call ‘the Thanksgiving Special?’ the clerk asked. "I'm convinced that flowers tell stories," she continued. "Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?"

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong." Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the door's small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, "Hi, Barbara...let me get your order." She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses – except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped and there were no flowers.

Sandra watched for the customer's response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed. "Yes, please," Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. "You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said, gently tapping her chest.

"Uh," stammered Sandra, "that lady just left with....she just left with no flowers!"

“That’s right," said the clerk. "I cut the flowers off. That's the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet."

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me someone is willing to pay for that!" exclaimed Sandra.

"Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you do today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.” “That same year I lost my husband," continued the clerk, "and for the first time in my life, I had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel."

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra.

"I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for good things in life and never asked Him why those good things happened to me. But when the bad stuff hit, boy, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is that I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God. I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life. It’s all too...fresh."

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God's providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please.”

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute."

"Thank you. What do I owe you?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first."

“Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant."

Praise Him for your roses; thank Him for your thorns.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~ II Corinthians 1:3,4 (NKJV)

The following poem was written by my friend, Pat Barrett, who has graciously allowed me to share it with you.(She also took the above photograph.) Pat is an amazing woman of strength, who recently suffered the loss of her younger brother to lymphoma. Yet, in the midst of her pain, Pat was still able to write this inspiring poem of thanksgiving. God bless you, Pat.

Thanks and Joy Always
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

Yearly we have a special time
To thank you and pray
But you want a thankful life
Joy and thanksgiving every day

Your will for us in Christ
Is to pray through good and bad
Not just when we are pleased
But also when scared or sad

When we think of benefits
Of having you as our God
There’s much reason for joy
As on this earth we trod

We often disappoint you
Still perfectly you love
You shower many blessings
From your throne up above

You loved before we knew You
Planned salvation free and clear
To send Christ to the cross
So we never need to fear

When we have the hard times
You are with us all the way
You will turn them to our good
As in the promise you did say

To keep a joyful heart
We must keep in your Word
We’ll get the peace and comfort
From what we’ve seen and heard

Through this the Spirit fills us
With happiness and peace
To soothe our pain and sorrow
Our complaining to cease.

He will lead us to look
For the good in the bad
To concentrate and focus
On what we have, not had

If we keep in his Word
We can be joyful each day
And pray without ceasing
And do things His way

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Brother, Bill

“But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother . . . .”
~ Proverbs 18:24b (NKJV)

You are my brother, you are my family
And it seems like only yesterday,
we were running wild and free
Down the corner buying candy,
or messin' 'round in the neighborhood
Hanging out with you night and day,
it was good, so good . . .

My Brother, My Brother ~ recorded by Aaron Neville

This week I’d like to write about my younger brother, Bill, who will be celebrating his 46th birthday on November 10th.

Bill and I are only sixteen months apart, even though we are the seventh and eighth children out of nine. I don’t know how our dear mother managed to keep her sanity having all those kids so close together. (Maybe she lost it by the time we were born, which would explain a lot.) At any rate, Bill and I go way back.

Rumor has it that I thought I was the boss of Bill from the time he was born. Mom said that when he started crawling, I followed him around everywhere he went. Poor kid. We even have a family picture with all of us kids lined up in a row. I was probably about two and Bill would have been about eight or nine months old. There we were at the end of the line, and I had my arm around Bill’s neck, holding him in a headlock.

Our favorite Bill story is about how he made up a song when he was only about seven years old. He would sing the chorus over and over as he strummed on his little ukulele: “Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby.” Then someone asked him, “What’s the name of your song, Billy?” In total exasperation, he replied, “Oh my BABY!”

My siblings and I used to torment Bill by singing this song called, Billy Boy. It went like this: “Oh where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Oh where have you been, charming Billy? I have been to seek a wife, she’s the joy of my life; she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother. Did she ask you to come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Did she ask you to come in, charming Billy? Yes, she asked me to come in, there’s a dimple on her chin; she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother.”

It should come as no surprise that Bill and I fought like cats and dogs when we were younger. (And I mean that literally.) But thankfully, we grew up, and I’m happy to report that now he is one of my dearest friends.

Bill is the business head in our family, and he graciously shares his ideas and wisdom with anyone willing to listen. It doesn’t matter how busy he is with his own family and business, he always makes time for his siblings. In an earlier column, I shared an example of how we benefited from Bill’s insights. It was about the time we were trying to sell our business in 1998 so Keen could go to college, and the guy we offered it to never returned Keen’s calls. Well, Bill became absolutely indignant about that and practically chastised us for wasting our time. “Call one of those big trash companies!” he exclaimed. So we took his advice and by 5:00 that night Keen had received a return telephone call from Waste Management. Within three months we closed the deal and Keen enrolled at Kansas State.

Recently I made the mistake of telling Bill that I was in the process of having business cards made up for Keen’s new law practice. Well, let me tell you, he was all over that! (I guess the tables have turned and now he thinks he’s the boss of me!) To make a long story short, after it was all said and done, Bill had dragged me kicking and screaming into the latest “must have” for the business world: a web page and a domain name. He said, “The whole idea behind a business card is to include as much contact information as possible.” He convinced me that now was the time to implement these changes – even though I had neither the time nor the desire to cooperate.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was feeling anxious about my book and decided to send out a preliminary query letter to the agent in New York who had expressed interest in my project several years ago. I was just going to send a letter, but Bill thought I should send the manuscript with the letter. I kept trying to explain why I simply wanted to ask her if she was still interested, but he kept insisting that I should wait. In one of his many e-mails he wrote: “I am thinking that you should send this letter with the manuscript, not asking permission to send it. Don’t leave her room to say no. (Old salesman’s trick.)” Nevertheless, I stuck to my guns and put the freshly composed letter in the mailbox. When I returned to my computer, I found yet another email from Bill asking if I’d sent the letter yet! I was tempted to tell him to back off, but instead I conceded and retrieved the letter before the mailman arrived. What can I say? I had to reluctantly admit that I did have a very slight, nagging doubt about it, and since he’s been right every other time, I was afraid not to listen to him!

“The godly give good advice . . . .” ~ Proverbs 10:21a (NLT)

I’ll say one thing, he sure is persistent! But seriously, Bill has a heart of gold and genuinely cares about everyone in his family.

"We need someone to believe in us - if we do well, we want our work commended, our faith corroborated. The individual who thinks well of you, who keeps his mind on your good qualities, and does not look for flaws, is your friend. Who is my brother? I'll tell you; he is one who recognizes the good in me." ~ Elbert Hubbard

Bill and his wife, Connie, have been married for over twenty years and together they are wonderful parents to their four children: Luke, Kyle, Joey and Callie.

Bill, Connie & kids with our father at Josh & Lisa's wedding in 2003

Whenever we visit their house it’s like Grand Central Station with friends constantly calling or coming over. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago Keen and I were in Olathe and we decided to drop by for a short visit. When we arrived, their house was swarming with teenagers who had gathered to celebrate Callie’s 13th birthday. There were pizza boxes galore and pop cans everywhere, and Connie was sitting on the floor organizing some games for the partygoers. If that wasn’t enough excitement for one night, they allowed their son Joey to invite four or five of his friends over, too! Yes, Bill and Connie are two of the most hands-on parents I know. They always attend their children’s’ various sporting events, even when that means traveling back and forth from one end of town to the other every Saturday and Sunday.

I might also add that Connie and I have two things in common: we both kept detailed journals of the funny things our kids said and did while growing up, and we both like to write poems. In fact, this Christmas I’d like to share a humorous poem/newsletter Connie wrote several years ago (with her permission, of course).

Lastly, I’d like to write about the way Bill and I seem to share the same warped sense of humor. Sometimes we can get pretty silly. For example, once we got off on a goofy tangent during an exchange of emails. It started with Bill saying: “If you need a proof reader, I could do it, for a fee.” Then later he sent me a picture that his son Kyle took at Josh and Lisa’s wedding, and he wrote: “I must copyright the photo Kyle took before it goes too far. I could ask him to sign your copies, for a fee.” But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when, in a more serious e-mail, I asked him to say some prayers for us. Believe it or not, he replied that he would be happy to, “for a fee.

That’s what instigated me to write the following ditty:

What's all this about a fee?
We should charge you!
You little turkey!

And I don't think God
Would be very pleased
To hear that you’re charging
For petitions and pleas!

And besides, I thought blood
Was thicker than water
Are you forgetting,
I'm your mother's daughter?

So for your sake
I'll pretend you never said it
And I suggest you drop your suggestion
Or else you're gonna get it!

Your loving sister, Eileen

But Bill still got in the last word with this response: “I'll drop it, for a fee.

So I guess I’ll wish my little brother a Happy Birthday ... “for a fee!”
I love you, bro!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Standing Tall

“For the Lord God helps me; therefore have I not been ashamed or confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near Who declares me in the right; who will contend with me? Let us stand forth together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he who will condemn me?” ~ Isaiah 50:4,7,9

One of America’s greatest heroes, Rosa Parks, was laid to rest this week. Surely she is in Heaven, strolling along those streets of gold and enjoying her just reward.

When Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress, stood up for her fundamental right of equality by refusing to relinquish her seat on the bus to a white man, I seriously doubt that she ever imagined her actions would have such far-reaching effects. Besides the 13-month boycott of the bus service, blacks in Montgomery went on to wage a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law which treated them as second-class citizens. Today Rosa Parks is eulogized as the mother of the civil rights movement.

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and what I can do, that I ought to do; and what I ought to do, by the grace of God I shall do." Edward Everett Hale

Due to my deep admiration for Rosa Parks, I decided that it would be worth the money to purchase the right to share this Associated Press photograph of her mug shot, which was taken on that fateful day nearly fifty years ago. I also obtained permission to post the picture on my blog/web page located at

AP/Wide World Photos

To me, this picture vividly illustrates the extreme price Rosa Parks paid for following her convictions. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and ultimately convicted and fined for violating the segregation laws. But Mrs. Parks believed that she had as much right as anyone else to take a seat on that bus. Come what may, she could not bear the injustice or humiliation one more day.

In Dr. Martin Luther King’s book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” he wrote, “Actually no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.'”

There’s a similar situation being played out right now in Manhattan, Kansas. The Manhattan Mercury ( has reported on it extensively. The case involves a convicted felon who served about six years in prison for an armed robbery he committed when he was a teenager. However, this individual is currently employed fulltime, married, and attempting to live a law-abiding life.

While some may question my comparison of the two cases, I firmly believe that there is little difference. To make a long story short, one day back in August this man was walking out of an area bank when he was approached by a sheriff’s deputy who demanded that he turn over the hat he was wearing. The hat bore the initials “RCPD” on the front (Riley County Police Department, Manhattan, Kansas), and had been given to him by his mother-in-law, who apparently received it as a gift from the widow of a former Riley County Commissioner. After being threatened with arrest, the man reluctantly forfeited his hat.

Although it is still unclear exactly why the deputy demanded the hat, I personally surmise that he felt there was something improper or sacrilegious about an ex-felon wearing an RCPD cap.

At any rate, six weeks later the man attended a meeting of the Law Board and requested the return of his hat. He also asked them to show him what authority they had to continue to withhold it. While no answer was forthcoming, the chairman of the Law Board did offer to pay him $20.00 for the hat. The gentleman declined because he didn’t want the twenty dollars, he wanted his hat back. (He has a collection of over 100 hats.)

According to published reports, it seems the Riley County Police Department was concerned that someone in the community might mistakenly identify this individual as a member of their department. But we have all seen people wearing NYPD or FBI apparel without restrictions. In fact, our son Kirk visited the FBI headquarters several years ago and purchased an FBI sweatshirt for our grandson, Asher.

The point I’m trying to make is that Rosa Parks had a constitutional right to refuse to give up her seat on that bus, and this individual had a constitutional right not to be forced to forfeit his personal property, regardless of his past mistakes. There are laws in society which restrain the citizenry, and there are laws contained in the Constitution which limit the activities of police officers and/or government officials. When a citizen breaks the law, for example, they are charged, prosecuted and punished severely – and rightfully so. Someone who is caught shoplifting cannot simply agree to return the stolen merchandise and expect that “all will be forgiven.” Even though the stolen item might only be worth $16.99, the criminal will spend much more than that in fines and legal fees, and he may even be forced to spend some time in jail. Truly, crime doesn’t pay.

In the Manhattan case, however, it was the police officer who stepped over the line and violated a citizen’s right. Although the hat has since been returned to its rightful owner, the issue of damages is still being determined. For those who think that a twenty dollar hat is worth exactly $20.00, I would argue that it is not the hat itself he must be compensated for, but rather the violation of his First Amendment right of free expression, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and his Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

I remember when we were involved in litigation with the Wabaunsee County Commissioners, we had a meeting with our lawyers about this very subject. They wanted us to agree to settle the case for far less than we felt it was worth; they said that we were being unreasonable. We explained that our First Amendment rights were not for sale. It was like asking us to put a price on one of our children. Keen said, “Put yourself in our shoes. For example, what is it worth to you not to have the government violate your Fourth Amendment right by breaking into your home and rifling through your personal papers?”

Since we couldn’t agree with our lawyers on what a “reasonable” settlement amount would be, the case went forward and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet, our decision to stand up for our right of free speech also came at a high price. Case in point: after we finally reached an out-of-court settlement, Keen was blamed for the increased insurance rates for Wabaunsee County. We felt the blame belonged to the commissioners who had abused their power by carrying out their personal vendetta against Keen. After all, it was their actions which were ruled unlawful by the United States Supreme Court.

“In some people’s eyes, standing up for your rights qualifies you as a troublemaker instead of as a person with strong principles and convictions.” ~ Keen A. Umbehr

Whenever my book gets published, it will show that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that we managed to survive every attack upon our business, including two sabotage attempts – one that would have caused damage to our truck when someone drained the oil out of it, and the other which could have caused serious physical harm to Keen when someone removed the lug nuts from the rear tire of his smaller trash truck. All I can say is: “There is a God.” That’s the only explanation for why we were not destroyed many times over.

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out or more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies...and only lukewarm defenders." ~ The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

By Eileen Umbehr

When right is wrong
And wrong is right
Do you run and hide,
Or embark on a fight?

If you run, you avoid
A prolonged struggle
No conflict, no worries
No lawyer bills to juggle.

But change doesn't happen
When your head's in the sand
It takes courage and commitment
To take a stand.

What would have happened
If Rosa Parks had backed down?
Would we all be equal,
Black, white & brown?

Sticking your neck out
Indeed, has its price
It is rarely popular
And involves sacrifice.

Your critics will be many
Your supporters few
But hold on to your dreams
And one day they'll come true.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Breaking Free

“In that wonderful day when the Lord gives his people rest from sorrow and fear, from slavery and chains . . . You will say, ‘The mighty man has been destroyed. Yes, your insolence is ended.  For the Lord has crushed your wicked power and broken your evil rule. You persecuted the people with unceasing blows of rage and held the nations in your angry grip. Your tyranny was unrestrained.’ But at last the land is at rest and is quiet. Finally it can sing again!  Even the trees of the forest . . . sing out this joyous song: Your power is broken! No one will come to cut us down now!” ~ Isaiah 14:3-8 (NLT)

     Last week I shared a letter I had written to a friend of mine who was struggling with her decision to file for divorce after her husband had an adulterous affair.  This is a copy of her response to my letter:

Dear Friend,

You have been a faithful woman of God and a faithful friend to me, Eileen.  Your letter, I know was penned from the heart of God.  He’s taking me to a new place of freedom and has helped me to release any hope of [my former husband] returning.  I’m grateful – only He could have done it.  The book was a wonderful, encouraging blessing.  It was good to hear the heart of someone else caught in similar experiences.  It brought comfort and reassurance to me, and it came at exactly the appointed time. I left the next day for a nine-day vacation and read it then.

You know how God helps us take steps by sending just the right words thru people & books & letters.  He’s done that again, and I think He bound me to your heart because He wanted to use you to walk me all the way thru this to the final freedom.

Writing this to you is the first time I’ve expressed that it’s finally over and I feel free.

Thank you, faithful friend.


I know it isn’t easy to break free – especially when there are children involved.  One person I know put it this way: “You just don’t want to be a statistic.”  But your peace of mind is worth it. Your physical safety is worth it. Your emotional well being is worth it.  And your health is worth it.  Stress is known to be a major contributor to physical ailments, and living with someone who abuses you day in and day out will eventually take a toll on your health.  Not only that, but it is detrimental to your children to be raised in a war zone full of constant yelling and strife.

"A home, a family should be a place of support, should be a peaceful place – not a place of cruelty and brutality.”  ~ President George W. Bush

Patricia Evans has written two excellent books that I’d like to recommend: “The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond,” and “Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out on Relationship and Recovery. In her second book, Patricia shares some quotes from women who have been verbally abused by their husbands:
“I thought it was one of his ‘moods.’  Now I’ve put the pieces together and understand his ‘moods’ were verbal abuse.”
     “I thought that I was a terrible wife for saying the wrong things or voicing my opinions.  Now I realize I don’t deserve to be pushed out of the way so he can walk through.”
     “I thought that if he really knew I loved him he would love me enough to hear me.  Now I know he will never change.”

I remember the saddest thing I ever heard my sister say was that she had given up on the hope that her husband would ever truly love her. “I thought if he couldn’t love me,” she explained, “then maybe he could at least learn to tolerate me.”  This is a woman who spent her life trying to please her husband. For example, one day she cleaned the house from top to bottom to make him happy (since he was a neat freak), and when he got home all he said was, “Hmmmm. You’ve been cleaning.”  Then he promptly walked over to the air conditioning vent in the hallway and gave it the white glove test.  Of course he immediately voiced his disapproval and assured my sister that she had sadly come up short once again, despite her best efforts to win his approval.  I don’t know how she put up with him for all those years.  Looking back, she wonders herself.

Unfortunately, husbands like this are not a rarity.  I heard about one guy who yelled at his wife for throwing a tissue in the waste basket that he had just emptied.  Another husband on the Dr. Phil Show criticized how his wife loaded the dishwasher, the way she organized her cupboards and how she dressed.  Even though his wife was a busy stay-at-home mom with three small children, he wanted her to wear tight shirts and spandex pants around the house all day.  In fact, he said his fantasy was to have his wife greet him at the door in a French maid outfit.  Dr. Phil responded by saying, “Buddy, you couldn’t dig a bigger hole for yourself if I brought you a backhoe!”

Dr. Phil told one woman that what she had was not a marriage – it was an abusive situation. He stated, “I would rather be healthy alone being my own best friend, than sick and living in a controlling situation with someone else.”  The woman said that her husband “thinks he’s justified because it’s his house and his life and he should be able to do it his way. Period.”  Dr. Phil replied, “Well, he certainly can.  But by the grace and strength of God, he would do it without me, if I were you.”

I’d like to close with the following excerpts from a sermon delivered by T.D. Jakes:

There are people who can walk away from you. And hear me when I tell you this. When people can walk away from you: let them walk. I don't want you to try to talk another person into staying with you, loving you, calling you, caring about you, coming to see you, staying attached to you. I mean – hang up the phone. When people can walk away from you, let them walk. Your destiny is never tied to anybody that left. The Bible said: “For had they been of us, no doubt they would have continued with us.” [1 John 2:19] People leave you because they are not joined to you. And if they are not joined to you, you can't make them stay. Let them go. And it doesn't mean that they are a bad person.  It just means that their part in the story is over. You've got to know when people's part in your story is over so that you don't keep trying to raise the dead. You've got to know when it's dead. You've got to know when it's over. Let me tell you something. I've got the gift of good-bye. I believe in good-bye. It's not that I'm hateful …. I know whatever God means for me to have He'll give it to me. And if it takes too much sweat, then I don't need it. Stop begging people to stay. Let them go!If you are holding on to something that doesn't belong to you and was never intended for your life, then LET IT GO!If you are holding on to past hurts and pains ….LET IT GO!If someone can't treat you right, love you back, and see your worth ….LET THEM GO! If you are involved in a wrong relationship or addiction ... LET IT GO!If you are holding on to a job that no longer meets your needs or talents ...LET IT GO! If you're stuck in the past and God is trying to take you to a new level …. LET IT GO!If you are struggling with the healing of a broken relationship ....LET IT GO! If you keep trying to help someone who won't even try to help themselves ...LET IT GO!If there is a particular situation that you are so used to handling yourself and God is saying "take your hands off of it," then ... LET IT GO!Let the past be the past. Forget the former things. GOD is doing a new thing for you! So LET IT GO!

“Do not [earnestly] remember the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it, and will you not give heed to it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”   ~  Isaiah 43:18,19

Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort ~ Nathrop, Colorado

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Taking Control

      “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”  ~ Proverbs 15:17

As most of you know, I have a passion for abused women.  I desperately want them to know that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’d like to take the opportunity to address this topic once again.

After witnessing the devastating effects of abuse on my sister throughout her twenty-five year marriage, I decided to form a non-profit organization called “Sisters Are We, Inc.”  The idea was born out of a desire to help Mary and others like her who needed emotional and financial support during the divorce process.  Statistically, the primary obstacle to women desiring to leave an abusive relationship is their concern about finances and how they will make ends meet.  When my sister went through her divorce, I took a temporary office job for three months to earn the money to help her out.  Our son, Keen II, my sister, Peggy, and our friends, Greg and Karen Barron, also made contributions to “Sisters Are We.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t done much with the organization since then, but one day I hope to develop a clearinghouse for abused women.  I’d like to be able to match them up with a volunteer “sister” who could provide a shoulder to cry on, an ear for listening, and a little help with the daily stresses of life. In the meantime, if there is anyone who needs encouragement in this area, please feel free to email me at

“…you shall receive your sisters, both your elder and your younger….”  ~ Ezekiel 16:61

Abuse comes in many forms – verbal, physical, emotional and mental – and each one leaves lifelong scars on the victim.  According to a report from the Department of Justice, there were almost 700,000 incidents of domestic violence in 2001, and nearly 1,200 women were murdered by their current or former spouse or partner during that same year.

"I understand that marriage is a life commitment. I understand that people think it’s a covenant with God. [But] there are deal-breakers in my opinion, and physical abuse is one of those deal-breakers."   ~ Dr. Phil McGraw

Although the Bible does say that God hates divorce, I don’t believe He wants or expects women to stay with men who abuse them or their children.  In her book titled: Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse, Marie Fortune points out that bringing violence into a marriage is another form of unfaithfulness. Like adultery, violence destroys trust. Marie goes on to explain that when God says He hates divorce, He is “acknowledging the pain that we all feel when a situation reaches the point where a divorce is necessary, when the brokenness is so great that it cannot be repaired between two people.  God does not say, ‘Thou shalt not divorce.’  But God grieves that unfaithfulness of any kind results in divorce.”

The operative word in any abusive relationship is CONTROL. The abuser generally attempts to exert control over your money, your time, your friends, and even your thoughts. A recent guest on the Dr. Phil Show was so controlling that he told his wife when it was “her day” to take a shower.  

If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship, I urge you to reach out for help.  Life is short, and ignoring the problem will not make it go away. (A good book on that subject is: I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman by Michele Weldon.) You can’t keep it all in and expect your relationship to magically improve. You have to confront the issue and take control. Now I realize that’s a whole lot easier said than done, but if you've already wasted precious years in a dead-end marriage with a spouse who shows no signs of being willing to change, then maybe you need to see the situation for what it really is, and not for what you want it to be. If it's sick, take it to the doctor; if it's dead – bury it.

In closing, I would like to share a letter I wrote several years ago to a friend of mine who divorced her husband after learning that he had an affair and his mistress was pregnant. Even after the divorce, she steadfastly held on to the hope that they would be reunited.

Dear Friend,

You are always in my heart and never far from my thoughts – but especially lately.  The other day I was watching the 700 Club and there was a woman by the name of Bonnie Keen on the show talking about her book: Blessed are the Desperate, for they will find Hope. Bonnie was a Christian singer with two small children when she found out that her husband was having an affair.  When they got divorced, she felt like it invalidated everything she’d ever done.  She also felt like she had a scarlet D on her forehead.

I have one other thing that is on my heart to say. Since we haven’t talked in a long time, I’m not exactly sure where you stand with your feelings about the divorce.  But the last time we visited you expressed deep regrets. You also said that you were praying for your marriage to be restored one day. All I want to say is this:  You didn’t divorce him – he divorced you the moment he violated your marriage vows with another woman. All you did was accept the reality of his choices. Yes, God hates divorce, but he also hates it when men mistreat the wife of their youth.

“And this you do with double guilt; you cover the alter of the Lord with tears [shed by your unoffending wives, divorced by you that you might take heathen wives]…. Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.”  ~ Malachi 2:13, 15b

I remember when Keen used to stop by to talk to [your former husband] whenever he brought the trash truck to the landfill.  He would always say, “Man, Keen. This is such wisdom. Where are you getting this stuff?”  After weeks of talking without any change in behavior, Keen concluded that he was like a man who took food offered to him and said, “Mmmmm.  This is really good!”  Although he pretended to chew it, he never actually digested it.  And the minute Keen walked away, he just spit it out.

I also remember how he tried to justify his adultery. One time he asked Keen: “Where is the judgment of God for my sin? I don’t see it.”  It’s like Malachi 3:17 that says:

“You have wearied the Lord with your words.  Yet you say, In what way have we wearied Him? You do it when by your actions you say, Every one who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them. Or by asking, Where is the God of justice?”

This next verse comes from I Corinthians 7:15, the Living Bible translation:

“But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian is eager to leave, it is permitted.  In such cases the Christian husband or wife should not insist that the other stay, for God wants His children to live in peace and harmony.  For, after all, there is no assurance to you wives that your husbands will be converted if they stay; and the same may be said to your husbands concerning your wives.”

There is one thing that neither God nor man can control – that is, the free will of another person.  A marriage is between two people.  It involves their commitment to each other and to God. When one party chooses to break the bond of love and seek the affections of someone outside of their union, then the other person has to face that sad reality and move on. And that’s what you did.  He made the decision to leave you for another woman.  That was his choice, not yours.  But once he made it, your only option was to accept the facts and trust God to lead your life in a new direction.

“See, this is the man who made not God his strength – his stronghold and high tower; but trusted and confidently relied on the abundance of his riches, seeking refuge and security for himself through his wickedness.

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust and confidently rely on the loving kindness and the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will thank You and confide in You forever, because You have done it [delivered me and kept me safe].  I will wait, hope and expect in Your Name, for it is good….”  ~ Psalm 52:7-9  

You are that green olive tree, my friend.  You have walked with God and revered His laws.  Therefore, you will be richly blessed.  Godliness is profitable (I Timothy 4:8). You are blessed with the peace that comes from obeying God and listening to His voice.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”  ~ Psalm 1:1-3

Thursday, October 13, 2005

How Do You Spell Success?

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” ~ Mark 8:37 (KJV)

Success is measured by the height of your aspirations,
The breadth of your vision, the depth of your convictions.
Success lies not in how well-known you are, but how well-respected –
Not in your power to take, but your willingness to give.
Success is the small voice you hear within
When you know you have done your best.

~ Hallmark card Keen received

Back in my younger days as a cheerleader, we used to shout out the following cheer: S-U-C-C-E-S-S – that’s the way we spell Success!” This week I’d like to address the question: How do you spell success?

In a recent edition of his column, “On the Run,” my friend Larry Welch eulogized his late father’s full – and successful – life. Larry summed up several lessons he had learned from his father. Lesson number nine struck me the most: “Love unconditionally.” Larry wrote, “I can't think of a nicer lifetime reputation for a person to have than that they loved unconditionally.”

Neither can I, Larry. We are very blessed who have experienced unconditional love from God, our parents, siblings, spouses and/or friends.


Author Unknown

You can use most any measure
When you're speaking of success
You can measure it in fancy homes
Expensive cars or dress
But the measure of your real success
Is the one you cannot spend
It's the way your kids describe you
When they're talking to a friend.

In the same column, Larry shared the following quote from anthropologist and author, Margaret Mead, Ph.D.

"I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.”

Remember This

Author Unknown

God won't ask what kind of car you drove, but He'll ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation.

God won't ask the square footage of your house, but He'll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet, but He'll ask how many you helped to clothe.

God won't ask what your salary was, but He'll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.

God won't ask what your job title was, but He'll ask if you performed your job to the best of our ability.

God won't ask how many friends you had, but He'll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

God won't ask what neighborhood you lived in, but He'll ask how you treated your neighbors.

God won't ask about the color of your skin, but He'll ask about the content of your character.

“The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." ~ I Samuel 16:7b (RSV)

The following poem was left on the windshield of Keen’s car when it was parked at Washburn Law School during the final week of classes:

Has My Life Made A Difference?

Author Unknown

Has my life made a difference?
After I’m gone will anyone say?
I’m really glad I met him
He often brightened my day.

Has my life made a difference?
Was I willing to take a stand?
Did I do the best I could,
To help my fellow man?

Has my life made a difference?
God only knows for sure
I don’t understand it all just yet
But I know God’s Word is pure.

Has my life made a difference?
Perhaps you should ask yourself the same
You see, nothing really matters
If love’s not our greatest aim.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” ~ Proverbs 31:8,9 (NLT)

Many people characterize success by the number of degrees you hold, and/or by the prestige of the institution where you obtained your degree.

Naomi Patterson, a local columnist, poet and retired clinical psychologist, wrote a very insightful article in a recent edition of The Topeka Capital-Journal. Naomi pointed out a little known fact about ABC news anchor Peter Jennings, who passed away from lung cancer. It seems Peter Jennings never attended college. As a matter of fact, he dropped out of high school. “Instead of pursuing a formal education,” she wrote, “Jennings had pursued his passion, surely having no idea himself of the success he would achieve against all odds.”

Naomi went on to say that many individuals who don’t fit the formal education mold have the “intelligence, heart, creativity and passion to make a meaningful mark in the world . . . without college algebra or knowing the capital of Afghanistan.”
Being one of those individuals who have never attended a day of college, I was especially appreciative of Naomi’s comments. By pursing my passion for writing, I hope to be able to touch lives and “make my mark in the world.”

In my husband’s case, on the other hand, he had to obtain a degree in order to pursue his passion for the law. In the final analysis, it’s up to each of us individually to identify our true passion and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we are fully utilizing our God-given talents.

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which, he simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.” ~ James A. Michener (1907-97), Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Tales of the South Pacific" and other bestselling books

“ . . . and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of [our] faith . . . .” ~ Hebrews 12:1b,2a (KJV)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Keepin' It Real

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” ~ James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Ups and Downs
By Eileen Umbehr

All of life
Is ups and downs
Happy, sad
Smiles, frowns

Fridays, Mondays
Births and deaths
No one escapes
Life’s trials and tests

Victories, defeats
Contentment and sorrow
The joys of today
The heartaches of tomorrow

But come what may
I will not complain
My hope is in God
Both in sunshine and rain.

(Taken after a recent blow-out)

My number one goal in writing my column is to keep it real. By that I mean that I never want to be guilty of only sharing the “up” times in our lives, because that’s just not a true picture of the way things really are. Yes, we have been richly blessed with a happy marriage and family, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work very hard at maintaining that status and it doesn’t mean that we don’t face the same struggles that everyone else faces in their lives.

Basically, I am a positive person (although that hasn’t always been the case), so naturally I tend to be positive in my writing. But I would be doing a great disservice to my readers if I gave the impression that our life is always peaches and cream, because it isn’t. We each have our own individual flaws, and we are constantly working on improving ourselves, with God’s help.

I once told my sister Joanne that when I share one of our family pictures with others, I don’t want them to see the image of a “picture-perfect family,” but rather, I want them to see an image of a “picture-perfect example of God’s grace.” In other words, even though we have had our share of ups and downs, the fact remains that God’s grace has seen us through every trial and has helped us overcome every obstacle along the way. That’s what I want people to see when they look at our family picture.

Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time Keen and I enjoy marital bliss, with only occasional interruptions from an argument where we – okay, I – could be heard by anyone within a three-mile radius. But I must admit that the past couple of months have been some of the most difficult for us, second only to the period of time when we were involved in the lawsuit and awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court.

Even before Hurricane Katrina destroyed Jared and Erin’s apartment, Keen and I were going through one of the most intense periods of this entire academic journey. The amount of preparation he had to devote to the bar exam prevented us from enjoying the quality time we would normally have spent together. So our life was no longer in balance, resulting in numerous misunderstandings and arguments. I tried my best to be understanding, but eventually I started feeling neglected, which always brings out the worst in me. But Keen was under such tremendous stress leading up to the exam that his emotional reserves were on empty, too. That’s when tensions reached a fever pitch at our house.

I’ve often thought it would be so much easier if I was self-sufficient and didn’t have any emotional needs, but that is simply not the case. We all have needs and it is only when our individual needs are met that we are fully equipped to go out into the world and fulfill our God-given destiny.

“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.”
~ I Corinthians 11:11,12 (NKJV)

In Gary Chapman’s book, Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, he talks about how we all have different ways that communicate love to us. Some people feel loved when they receive gifts. That’s not me, which is probably a good thing, since Keen isn’t much of a gift-giver. However, I quickly identified my “love language” – quality time. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with Keen – my high school sweetheart, the love of my life and my best friend. I love walking and talking with him, or just sitting on the couch with a cup of tea. That’s when I feel the most loved. For me, spending time with Keen is like putting gas in my tank; without it, my emotional engine light comes on and eventually I shut down all together.

Even after the bar exam was over, Keen and I seemed to suffer from post-traumatic “test stress.” Then the hurricane hit. In the midst of trying to be supportive to Jared, Erin and the boys, we were busy setting up Keen’s law office in Topeka. This involved buying fax machines and printers and phones (AND filling out those “oh-so-fun” rebate forms), as well as setting up new checking accounts and learning a new system of billing. In addition, Keen has had his hands full with several new clients.

Meanwhile, Jared and Erin’s lives were in a constant state of flux. It’s been painful for us to witness because we’ve been completely helpless to do anything about it. Although Erin had a place to stay in Manhattan and she enrolled Asher in kindergarten, their ultimate goal was to reunite as a family once again. However, when Jared checked into the few apartment complexes’ that were still in operation, he learned that there were 150 people on the waiting list. Then Erin checked into hotel accommodations in the area, but they were booked for the next eighteen months as well. It just seemed like every road they went down led to another dead end.

Then there was a light at the end of the tunnel when the Navy announced that they would be opening up some housing units on base at Pensacola, Florida. Although this would be about two hours away from where Jared worked, the Navy had plans to provide shuttle transportation every weekend. To make a long story short, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, the Pensacola plan fell through at the last minute. Erin said she felt like someone was pushing the buttons of her life like a tape recorder: Stop – Play – Pause. Understandably, the uncertainty and confusion became almost unbearable.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” ~ Isaiah 30:21

Finally, in the 11th hour, after they had almost resigned themselves to living apart again, some base housing became available back in Gulfport. Jared’s Chief went to bat for him since Jared has three dependents, and they assigned them a four-bedroom housing unit on base. Now Jared can be home with his family every night and Erin can return to her nursing job at Gulfport Memorial if she wants to. As an added bonus, the babysitter Erin had previously lined up lives right there in Gulfport, too. Although the surrounding area is still in bad shape after Katrina, they can always drive to outlying areas for shopping and recreation. The important thing is that they will finally be together – thank God!

In the midst of all this turmoil, my friend Maggie (from my days at Hudson Junior High), and her husband, Randy, sent some sunshine Jared and Erin’s way by surprising them with a check for five hundred dollars! Randy and Maggie live in Wisconsin and have three sons of their own, but they generously decided to donate money to some hurricane victims that they knew personally. When I called Maggie to thank her, she said, “Just tell them that God guided us to do it and it just felt right.” Thank you, Randy and Maggie, for having such big hearts and for helping our kids get through one of the darkest times of their married life.

“That you may give him the power to hold himself calm in the days of adversity . . . For the Lord will not cast off nor spurn His people, neither will He abandon His heritage. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, held me up. In the multitude of my (anxious) thoughts within me, Your comforts cheer and delight my soul!” ~ Psalms 94:13a,14; 18,19 (Amp)

May God bless everyone for their love, support, encouragement and prayers!

“And I will bless those who bless you . . . .” ~ Genesis 12:3a (NKJV)

A not-so-perfect picture of the Umbehr family from Christmas, 2000